Tag Archives: autism

Research for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Gets a Boost


A Canadian University received praise in response to their use of a treatment for autism called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.

The research program at Simon Frasier University received this prize in the form of a $500,000 grant from Central City Brewing and Distillery President Darryl Frost. Frost and his wife were compelled to donate to the program after seeing the improvements their son had made after receiving intensive HBOT.

5 year old Callum, who had struggled with behavioral issues, began undergoing the treatment along with dietary changes to improve his symptoms. Before the therapy he began, his father Daryl described him as an “extremely low-functioning child” who was not capable of communicating, feeding himself, or getting dressed independently. He also exhibited aggression, tantrums, and self-harming behavior.

Now, Callum’s father claims he can speak in full sentences, can eat and dress by himself, and is fully potty trained. His behavior and communication has largely improved and he attends kindergarden with the help of an aid.

During an HBOT session, the patient is placed in a pressure chamber where they are able to breathe 100% oxygen. The researchers claim that this allows for greater tissue saturation by up to ten times when compared to normal pressure.

The newly funded HBOT study will be conducted by SFU’s Environmental Medicine and Physiology Unit and the university’s associate dean from the Faculty of Science. The study is planned to accept 40 volunteers, both children and adults. Some of the individuals will have autism while others will not. Research will likely begin by 2016. Though studies on HBOT and its effectiveness on autism symptoms have been conducted in the past, the results were fairly subjective and difficult to measure scientifically.

This time around, SFU will be using the university’s Magnetoencephalography (MEG) machine. This piece of technology is the most modern brain imaging device available to the university. Using the MEG machine, scientist will be able to track brain oscillations and note changes in mental network connectivity. It will also enable scientists to determine which patients will benefit most from HBOT.

It is not yet clear how this treatment will improve symptoms of autism. What researchers do know is that HBOT increases the oxygen supply to the blood stream, therefore allowing more oxygen to reach the brain. In turn, they theorize that this increased oxygen energizes brain cells and cell pathways. This may actually help repair cells that are damaged or functioning at a low metabolic level.

You can read the original article here.

Looking for the perfect autism book to read with your family during Hanukkah?

Special-Needs-BLOGNicole Katzman’s book, Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles brings together various themes related to the holiday, family, acceptance, and autism. The book is about a boy named Jacob who loves his brother Nathan. Nathan has autism, and when Hanukkah comes, Jacob worries that Nathan might embarrass him in front of his new friend. Katzman is a mother of four children, one diagnosed with autism.

The book is illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau and presents an artistic way many of the thoughts and feelings children with special needs experience.

Katzman said that she wanted to convey the value of acceptance in her book. In an interview, she stated, “Accepting the other in our midst is an important Jewish value. As a mother of a child with autism child I didn’t feel that acceptance. All too often I found the situation to be reverse and at times painful. I knew that in order to help children understand how to accept the other they needed a story to which they could relate.”

Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles is a great resource and teaching tool for children.

Click here to read more about the book or here to purchase.

Simulated Flight Prepares Autistic Children for Plane Travel

Autistic children at airport

Anyone taking a flight for the first time is likely in for a few surprises. For an autistic child, the experience can be a sensory overload.

The process of boarding entering the crowded terminal, going through security, checking luggage, and boarding a plane are not everyday occurrences. A child with autism may by quite sensitive to all the crowds and unfamiliar situations that move along so quickly. Feeling overly stimulated causes them to feel bombarded.

Schools lead children on fire drills and even storm preparedness simulations, so why not take them on a run-through of what to expect when they fly for the first time? That is exactly what 50 families participated in through the Arc of Baltimore’s Wings for Autism at Thurgood Marshall Airport, joining a trend of similar projects set forth by other similar organizations.

This organization leads families through a test run to familiarize the children with what is expected when taking a place. Children were instructed to wait in line for entrance to a designated security gate, then handed boarding passes for a short flight that never actually left the ground.

Once seated on the plane, the children listened to the security procedures over the speaker, before the staff distributed pretzels and drinks to everyone. Since children with autism are often prone to become absorbed in electronic devices, they must also learn to put these devices away when the airline staff requires it.

The simulation is seen as a test for special needs children to determine whether they are ready and able to take an actual flight. Possible scenarios could be reminiscent of a scene from the film Rain Man, in which Dustin Hoffman’s autistic character Ray has a screaming meltdown at the possibility of an unsafe flight.

Jennifer Bishop, a Baltimore mother of a 14 year old autistic boy named Nathaniel, took a plane trip with her son 10 years ago that she describes as “disastrous.” Jennifer had such a difficult time that she vowed she would never fly with him again. Now, with her aging mother turning 92, she wants to revisit flying with Nathaniel.

The teen is wheelchair-bound at times and does not always want to walk. New places intimidate him. When boarding the plane with his mother behind pushing his wheelchair, Nathaniel at first refused to get up and board without his mother beside him. With just a bit of maneuvering, Jennifer was able to stand in front of her son and coax him into the first row of seats with her. Once he sat down, Nathaniel smiled with satisfaction.

Implementing a “drill” procedure for boarding a plane and completing the flight successfully can make the experience less traumatic for both special needs children and their families, once an actual flight is necessary. The patience and understanding of volunteers who assisted the children was quite instructive when it came to preparing them for airline travel.

Nonprofit Helps Families Affected by Autism Cope with Daily Challenges

mature child

The things many of us took for granted as a child- a trip to the beach, a shopping errand, swimming lessons, a walk around the neighborhood- are a daily struggle for an autistic child and their family. For a young person with behavioral and communication issues, these simple activities can become complicated and overwhelming.

It becomes difficult for families to relate to others when they experience these struggles. Friends may have children who do not experience the same hurdles on a day to day basis. This leads families affected by autism to feel a sense of isolation.

In order to help these families cope, pediatrician Wendy Ross has created a non-profit organization Autism Inclusion Resources. In honor of her work, Ross is featured as one of “CNN Heros” of 2014. The weekly program which pays tribute to “everyday people changing the world.” The show airs every Sunday at 8 pm.

The goal of Autism Inclusion Resources is to make sure that no family feels left behind, and that each unique child is given support to build the skills they need to function in their society. She emphazises that each child functions in their own special way, so each case receives special consideration to suit the child’s learning needs.

In the basic sense, Ross wants the children to enjoy daily tasks and build fun memories. The ultimate goal is to equip the children with the tools to become independent adults. This could include anything from taking a smooth plane trip to conducting onesself professionally in the workplace. The world can seem large and intimidating for a child who feels different, so Ross hopes that through her work she can make the surrounding environment less scary. Each little challenge can seem overwhelming, so the children and their families are provided with coping skills to tackle everyday challenges while building up to larger life events.

Ross also works to build awareness of autism in the public sphere. She educates airline employees, museum personnel and other workers likely to come into contact with an autistic person, and how to react most appropriately. Mrs. Ross believes that by starting at the root of how autism is perceived will help make daily life easier for everyone involved.

Numerous familes have been helped by Autism Inclusion Resources, including The Stockmals. Mary Stockmal’s 12 year old son was prone to severe episodes in public, and she felt she faced judgement from others for not disciplining him appropriately. After staff at the Phillies stadium were trained by Dr. Ross, the Stockmals were moved to a private section with no one else around. Even feeling normal for five minutes is a blessing, Mary stated, mirroring the sentiment of many children and families who just want to fit in.

Read the original article here

Airport Program Enables Children with ASD to Prepare for Travel

For many parents of children with autism, going on a family vacation may seem impossible. The biggest obstacle is traveling, particularly flying in planes, as children on the spectrum may be overwhelmed by the new experience they are having. An airport in Alaska has begun a new project to help children on the spectrum ease their anxieties and be able to experience the joys of traveling somewhere new with their families.

The Arc of Anchorage, a nonprofit serving families of children on the autism spectrum, recently sponsored several Wings for Autism days, where airport workers focus on making children with autism comfortable with the travel process. These airport “rehearsals” have been held across the country by other chapters of the organization, creating an experience that aims to open the doors to travel. The organization gets children comfortable by introducing them to several of the experiences of flying, without an actual plane ticket involved.

Jacquelyn McGary, spokeswoman for The Arc of Anchorage, states, “[The rehearsals] also give a rehearsal try for employees in the industry, because those that are on the flight get to work with the individuals and get a sense of what their issues are”. According to the parents that participated in the event, the most common troubles involved in traveling are waiting in lines, being around crowds, being in a new, unfamiliar place, along with being stuck in a confined space for a significant duration of time.

The Arc used visuals to depict each stage of the screening and boarding process to help children understand the steps being taken, and what to expect next. At last week’s event, participants checked in at a ticket counter, headed through a security checkpoint, and boarded a Boeing 737. The airline captain ran the jet along the runway and accelerated the plane just enough to create the volume of a takeoff.

Upon leaving the plane, participants were greeted with a celebratory reception, as well as snacks. Wings for Autism aims to expand their program through creating more chapters around the country. Programs such as these enable families to introduce their children to new experiences, giving them better opportunities to enjoy things together, such as a family vacation.

Autism and Race, are they connected?

autism and race

Since the rate of autism diagnosis has more than doubled between the year 2000 and now, many studies have pointed to the importance of early diagnosis and treatment. The idea is that, the earlier the symptoms can be detected, the better equipped family and professionals will be to provide the right treatments and therapies. Not only this, but also by helping their child sooner rather than later, they are giving their child the best chance at reaching their full potential. However, for many families, it can be challenging to receive all of the appropriate resources they need to help their child.

According to the Center for Disease Control, African American and Hispanic children do not get an autism diagnosis as promptly as their Caucasian peers. While many children tend to get diagnosed on the spectrum at the age of 4, research shows that African American children are diagnosed one year to two years later. Those two years may not seem like a huge issue, however those are years of critical brain development, where children learn many of their language skills and social skills. Research also shows that when minority children do get a referral, they are often misdiagnosed as having ADHD or other behavioral conduct problems.

This lends the question of whether autism may look different or manifest itself differently in African American or Hispanic children. So far, research has shown that regressive autism is twice as common in African American children as it is in Caucasian children. Regressive autism is when children lose social and language skills after they have developed them. Other studies hint that African American children are likely to exhibit challenging and aggressive behaviors, or that they have more severe problems with language and communication. The causes for these differences are not known, but it could still be traces back to the lack of resources and diagnosis of this specific population.

Recently Dr. Daniel Geschwind, autism scientist and researcher at UCLA, has joined with the Special Needs Network (SNN) to work on a large research project that will help identify genetic causes of autism in African American children. You can read about this project and how to get your child involved with his study here. In a topic full of uncertainty, one thing is certain, and that is the lack of scientific research to help us understand any differences in autism due to ethnicity or race. As more research is underway for underrepresented populations, we hope to be able to provide the right resources and service these children will need to thrive.

At Shema Kolainu, we serve children of all religions and backgrounds in the New York metro area and have a strong belief in giving every child their best chance.

Tips For Parents of Children With Autism: Managing Difficult Behaviors

Managing any child’s ‘bad’ behaviors is stressful and confusing for any parent, but if that child is on the autism spectrum, it can induce panic in parents and meltdowns in their children. Add to that the difficulties with verbal communication common to many children with autism spectrum disorders, and it is no wonder that the stress levels of parents of children with ASD are often compared to combat veterans. That’s why we’ve pulled together a few tips for managing your child’s behavior – to help you stay calm and stave off the panic.

When danger is imminent, do not hesitate

If your child is acting in a way that is aggressive or harmful to others or themselves, seek help immediately. Sometimes what seems relatively harmless, like scratches on an arm, can quickly escalate to harmful wounds. Don’t wait for the behavior to resolve itself. Seek medical help first, if necessary, then see a psychologist or certified behavioral therapist. They can help you help your child to stop engaging in a dangerous behavior.

Find the “why” behind the behavior

There is almost always a reason for children with autism to engage in challenging behavior. Don’t assume they are acting out because that’s just what they do; they are probably trying to communicate something to you. Perhaps they don’t want to do what you asked; or maybe they are having trouble adjusting to an environmental transition or are experiencing sensory overload. They may want attention or even a snack. Look for patterns in your child’s behaviors and once you crack the code of the “why” it’ll be much easier to manage the “what” behind their behavior.

Respond to the “why,” not the “what”

When your child is being aggressive, wandering off, or injuring himself or others, follow these basic steps:

1)   Require them to complete some part of whatever they are reacting to. By helping them to finish one part of that homework assignment or cleaning up some of their toys, they will feel some form of accomplishment attached to the “why” instead of their aversion alone.

2)   Devise a system for them to communicate the “why” without the harmful behavior. This may be verbal, the use of symbols, a tablet device, or a less aggressive behavior.

3)   Reassess your demands because they may be overwhelming or inappropriate for your child’s abilities.

If your child is seeking attention, the steps are different:

1)   Stop the behavior but don’t give the attention. If they are acting out to get attention and they get attention, the aggressive behavior is only being rewarded and reinforced.

2)   Reward good behavior with plenty of attention. They will quickly learn that aggression = no attention while non-aggression = plenty of attention.

3)   Work together to develop healthier ways to communicate their need for attention.

If your child is acting out because they want something more tangible, the steps are similar but have important differences.

1)   Stop the behavior but don’t give them what they want right away. Try to get them to calm down a bit first and then give them what they want. Pacifying their desire may work as a quick fix, but it will only teach them that if they want candy, they will get it with aggressive behavior.

2)   Work together to find a better way for them to communicate what they want.

These are just some very basic tips for training your child to behave safely, without aggression. But we want to hear from you – please join the conversation by sharing below. What works for you? What doesn’t work for you?

Early Language Delays Change Architecture of the Brain

Language delays in early childhood are common to many people on the autism spectrum, but not to those with Asperger Syndrome. A recent study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex has found that these early language delays leave a signature on the brain, changing its anatomy.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge studies 80 adult men with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), 38 who had delayed language onset and 42 who did not. They found that the men who had delayed language as children had reduced volume of the temporal lobe, insula, and ventral basal ganglia (all key regions in the brain) and larger brainstem structures than the autistic subjects who did not have language delays.

They also found that current language function is linked to a specific pattern of grey and white matter volume changes in some key brain regions, including the frontal, temporal, and cerebellar structures.

Delayed language onset, a child’s first meaningful words coming after 24 months or their first phrase coming after 33 months is considered a subgroup of autism, but is one of the clearest and earliest symptom and cause for assessment of autism or other developmental delays.

Most scientific studies of ASD compare people who are on the spectrum to people who are not, lumping all the subcategories of autism together. Last year, the American Psychiatric Association removed Asperger’s Syndrome as a separate diagnosis from its diagnostic manual, but this study shows a fundamental difference in the architecture of Asperger’s vs. other autism spectrum disorders.

“Although people with autism share many features, they also have a number of key differences,” explained Dr. Meng-Chuan Lai of the Cambridge Autism Research Centre and lead author of the paper. “Language development and ability is one major source of variation within autism. This new study will help us understand the substantial variety within the umbrella category of ‘autism spectrum’. We need to move beyond investigating average differences in individuals with and without autism, and move towards identifying key dimensions of individual differences within the spectrum.”

“This new study shows that a key feature of Asperger Syndrome, the absence of language delay, leaves a long lasting neurobiological signature in the brain. Although we support the view that autism lies on a spectrum, subgroups based on developmental characteristics, such as Asperger Syndrome, warrant further study,” said Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, senior author of the study.

Dr Lai concluded: “It is important to note that we found both differences and shared features in individuals with autism who had or had not experienced language delay. When asking: ‘Is autism a single spectrum or are there discrete subgroups?’ — the answer may be both.”

Autistic Kids Are Just as Fit, But They’d Rather Sit

A new study out of Oregon State University has concluded that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are more sedentary than their neurotypical peers. This small-scale study of 29 children, both on and off the spectrum found that the autistic children spent an average of 70 minutes more sitting and 50 minutes less engaged in moderate physical activity each day. The study also found that the children with ASD were just as physically capable as their typically-developing peers in terms of body mass index, aerobic fitness, and flexibility.

The fitness levels of the children were measured at the Movement Studies in Disability Lab at Oregon State University, using assessment techniques commonly used in schools cross the country. Activities included and 20 meter shuttle run that measured aerobic fitness, a sit-and-reach test that measured flexibility, and a test that measured handgrip strength, in addition to height, weight, and body mass index measurements. The only area where the autistic children were found to lag behind was in the strength test.

According to study leader, Megan McDonald, the results were surprising and encouraging because they showed that autistic kids are on par with their peers in terms of physical fitness abilities.

“That’s really important for parents and teachers to understand, because it opens the door for them to participate in so many activities,” she said. “They can do it. Those abilities are there. We need to work with them to give them opportunities.”

While she also says that the results warrant further study into why autistic children tend to be more sedentary when they are just as capable as other children, she also urges parents to make physical activity a part of their family’s daily routine. A walk in the park or bike ride every day can help to alleviate anxiety and foster a mind-body connection, while participating in an inclusive soccer team can help with coordination and social skills in addition to contributing to overall health.

Earlier studies have found that autistic people have a much higher risk of obesity than other people, and this sedentary tendency is most likely a contributing factor. Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices School in Brooklyn uses adaptive physical education in their gymnasium. This approach tailors fitness programs to each child’s particular abilities and needs.

How do you keep your autistic children active? What types of activities do they enjoy most? Do you have a hard time motivating your child to participate in sports or exercise? We want to hear from you. Please share your trials, tips, and concerns with us by replying to this post.

Pets Are Beneficial to Autistic Children and The Whole Family

Raising an autistic child is a 24-hour job that can be overwhelming and incredibly stressful. For many parents, the idea of bringing a pet into the home seems like an impossible notion that will only add complications, chaos, and the burden of unnecessary responsibility.  The right pet, however, can reduce stress for the whole family and have a therapeutic effect on the child with autism.

A recent study from the University of Missouri concluded that autistic children who have difficulty interacting with people are often able to form emotional bonds with animals. These relationships can provide unconditional, non-judgmental love and companionship that may pave the way for interpersonal bonding, as well as stress relief, affection, and a key ingredient for a happy childhood- fun.

“Dogs can help children with autism by acting as a social lubricant,” explained Gretchen Carlisle, study leader and research fellow at the university’s Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction. “For example, children with autism may find it difficult to interact with other neighborhood children. If the children with autism invite their peers to play with their dogs, then the dogs can serve as bridges that help the children with autism communicate with their peers.”

If you aren’t interested in having a dog, many other animals encourage social interaction. Many people find that their autistic children respond incredibly well to cats, as they are less aggressive with their affections and form deeply individual bonds.

Choosing the right pet for your family is a personal decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly. You should take your needs and lifestyle into consideration. If your family enjoys an active lifestyle and want to include your pet in outdoor activities, a dog would be a great choice. If most of your time is spent indoors or you don’t have time to walk a dog several times a day, consider a cat, rodent, or reptile. If your child or anyone else in the home has allergies, be sure to seek out a breed that is hypoallergenic. Do research on different breed temperaments and visit breeders and animal shelters with your child before you bring one home.

Just like children, every animal is different. Not every child will benefit from having a pet, but when a child with autism forms an emotional bond with an animal, it can reduce stress for the whole family.